University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Arkansas School Spending – 2015 Update

In The View from the OEP on November 11, 2015 at 12:01 pm

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How much is Arkansas spending on K-12 education?  Is it enough? Is it equitable for students? Are we getting results?

These are the questions that OEP examines in the Arkansas Education Report released today.  Trends in the funding and spending of Arkansas public schools is examined as an update to our earlier report conducted in 2008.

Our new findings are similar to what we found previously: the school funding system in Arkansas continues to allocate above-average levels of overall funding to districts serving traditionally under-served students. We find that districts serving greater proportions of students eligible for free or reduced lunch, serving greater proportions of students of color, and demonstrating lower achievement on state assessments spend more per pupil than do other districts across the state. In addition, the smallest districts are spending more per pupil than larger districts.  One change from prior findings is that districts with the highest property values are spending more per pupil than districts with the lowest property values.  If this trend continues inequity between districts could result.

How much is Arkansas spending on K-12 education?

  • Arkansas’ investment in education has increased consistently since 2000-01.
  • Per Pupil Net Current expenditures (essentially the day-to-day costs of education) have increased 70% since 2001 – from $5,531 to $9,429 in 2013-14.

Is it enough?

This is complicated.  Enough for what?  Essentially for this question, we can only ask “Enough as compared to…?”

  • Our Neighbors? Arkansas provides more funding per pupil than neighboring states.
  • The Nation? Arkansas provides nearly the same funding per pupil as the national average when cost-of-living is considered.

Is it equitable for students?

Since all students have different needs, equity doesn’t mean giving everyone the same thing.  Equity means ensuring that every student has an equal shot at success.  We evaluated funding equity by examining Net Current Per Pupil expenditures (NCPP) across a variety of district characteristics.  Statewide, the average NCPP for 2013-14 was $9,429.

  • Size: The smallest districts spend about $1,000 more per pupil than the largest districts
  • Race: Districts with the most students of color spend about $2,000 more per pupil than districts with the fewest students of color
  • Poverty: Districts with the most FRLP students spend about $2,500 more per pupil than the lowest FRLP districts
  • Achievement: The Lowest-achieving districts spend $2,500 to $3,000 more per pupil than the highest-achieving districts
  • Local Wealth: Districts with the highest local property values spent about $1,000 more per pupil than the poorest districts in 2013-14.

Are we getting results?

Since 2005, student proficiency rates on state Benchmark assessments in literacy and math have increased.  The performance of FRLP students has increased as well, but there are persistent achievement gaps in spite of the gains.  Arkansas students scored below the national average on the recently released 2015 National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) reading and math assessments.

Performance below the national average, however, is not unexpected as Arkansas enrolls 60.5% of students who are eligible for free and reduced price lunch (a proxy for poverty) than the national average of 48.1%. Since poverty and academic success are related, it is meaningful to compare Arkansas’ NAEP performance to states with similar students. Among neighbor states, Arkansas students score similarly to Oklahoma, which has the same percentage of students eligible for free or reduced lunch.

Although Arkansas has drastically improved the amount of resources available to districts in the state, students are still not doing as well as would be hoped on standardized measures of academic achievement. Increasing student achievement on should remain a major concern and point of focus for the state until all students in Arkansas are leaving school with the skills they need to succeed.

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Keep it up Arkansas!

Arkansas has made great strides in ensuring that every student has access to adequate education funding and equitable resources, but the work is not yet done. Not enough students are demonstrating proficiency on state assessments, and there are gaps between students of different socioeconomic and demographic backgrounds. The resources are in place, but districts need to continue seeking methods that effectively use the resources to ensure every student in Arkansas graduates from the K-12 education system with the knowledge and skills needed to be successful in the future. The commitment the Legislature has demonstrated to enhancing the quality of education received by all students over the past decade and a half, if maintained, will continue to benefit the students of the state.

For more information, read our policy briefs about Adequacy and Equity.  You can also read the full report here.

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